From the “place a microphone in front of a great musician and get out of the way” school of production, this collection of warm, intimate performances of Afro-Peruvian music was made by two young American visitors with portable recording gear. You hear the ambiance of various rooms, offices, auditoriums. The sounds are unadorned and arrestingly present. Occasionally a voice is a tad off mic. But the charm of these spontaneous performances greatly outweighs any flaws.
Afro-Peruvian music has a fascinating history, going back centuries, although the style we hear here really coalesced in the past 60 years. The typical ensemble is nylon string guitar, standup bass, and cajon (Peruvian box drum). Most of these tracks use even less instruments than that, but rarely more. The sound is a combination of memory and invention. More to the point, it is beautiful. Whether a lilting lando like “Baranco Lando” an elegant guitar solo like “Jose Maria” or a cracking, passionate vocal number like “El Mayoral,” featuring the superb voice of Sofia Rei Kousovitis, these spare, no-nonsense performances draw you in every time.
One of the two young American producers here, Cory Wong, studied Afro-Peruvian guitar, and plays persuasively on a number of the tracks. This impromptu recording venture was more-or-less a whim, carried out with minimal planning and resulting in 50 tracks recorded during just one week in Lima. Seventeen of those tracks make up this refreshingly unpretentious CD. An accompanying DVD tells the story of the adventure and introduces an amiable assortment of casually brilliant musicians.
A minor complaint. Wong and his co-producer Eric D. Foss seem unaware of the work David Byrne and Luaka Bop have done to make Afro Peruvian music known internationally. The careers of Susana Baca, Eva Ayllon, Tania Liberdad, Peru Negro and others somewhat fly in the face of the contention that nobody knows this music. Nevertheless, their essential point stands—not nearly enough people know it. And they’ve add a lot by revealing its vibrant, street-level reality in Lima.